European River Cruising : 8 Need-to-Knows And Tips for First-time Cruisers

I’m Gary Bembridge and this is another
of my tips for travellers. I’m currently on a Danube river cruise on Viking River
Cruises and i thought this would be a great opportunity to talk to you about
the things that you really need to know if you are a first-timer to river
cruising. First of all, river cruising is very different to ocean cruising and
it’s much closer to an escorted bus tour around a particular region. It’s a more curated experience with less choice and options. Your whole day is more planned and it is a more regimented and organised experience,
similar to going on a tour around the region or a bus with a guide.
You travel shorter distances than you would on an ocean
cruise. Across a week you might only travel a couple of hundred
kilometres, whereas our ocean cruise you
often travel many hundreds of kilometres every day as you move
between the different destinations. It is a more intensive look at a
particular region. It is a very different experience. Don’t think of it
as an ocean-style cruise on a river. Secondly, the way that you choose a river
cruise line I think is very different, and it’s very much around always how
you’d choose a hotel that you want to stay at. Do you normally like to travel
in a three star, four star or five star hotel? Do you like to travel in a
traditional decor hotel or a modern contemporary hotel? In practice
river cruise ships are largely the same, and they largely have to be the same
because they have to be a certain length, width and height to
go along the rivers. As you look at the different river cruise ships, they
look incredibly similar from the outside and their structure and facilities
inside are very similar. You have a dining
room, lounge perhaps a small library, some will have a
fitness centre and some may have a second dining room. You’re not really
choosing a river cruise line based on the facilities, you’re choosing it first
of all based on budget and style. Do you like a very plush five-star
experience and do you have the budget for that, or are you looking for
something much more on the value side and more three star? When you come
to choose a river cruise line, you’re choosing it based on your style of travel (three, four or five star travel) , your budget and then the design and look of
the ship once you’re on board. The third really important thing
about river cruising is when people look at river cruising,
they think it looks incredibly expensive. River cruising is a relatively
expensive way to travel, however ,you need to look beyond the headline fare because
you’ll find river cruising is largely all-inclusive. You’ll normally
find on most cruise lines they include your accommodation, all your
dining options and at least one excursion per port included
within the fare. They will have Wi-Fi included, most of the
cruise lines will include wine or beer with your lunch and your dinner, you’ll
have 24-hour tea and coffee making facilities often with all snacks.
What’s excluded are usually things like gratuities, obviously on board shopping
or if you do go for extra excursions. They may offer premium
excursions. For example, on the cruise that I was on we had the option of going
to a classical concert in Vienna. When you look at the cost of a fare, bear in
mind that a lot of the things that you’re going to pay extra if you go
ocean cruising is included in the fare. People often think my goodness that’s
quite expensive, but look at the inclusions. The next key thing that I
think people coming to river cruising for the first time should really focus
on when you look at which itinerary you going to do is to
really focus on the places that it goes to, how long you’re going to be calling
at them and also take a look at the excursions that are offered
and understand where they’re going to take you and what you’re going to see.
Are they going to take you to all the important must-see places?
I recommend that you understand to what degree there is cultural immersion
on the cruise. Some cruise lines will make sure that every day there’s a local
menu and they’ll bring onboard local entertainment. Again using the example
of the cruise I’m currently on, the Viking Danube cruise, every single day there was a local menu choice with a starter, a main course and a
dessert which was specific to the very town or place that were going
through. They would bring onboard entertainers from that region
who would do singing or dancing. I have been on other river cruises where it has been less so because it’s speciality is say French cuisine, and that’s
what they keep having every day. Very
importantly understand the degree of cultural immersion and what the actual
enrichment program is onboard. In my opinion, first time two cruisers should
focus on two key rivers: the Rhine and the Danube. There are many
rivers that you can cruise on around Europe, but the Rhine and Danube are the
two big classic ones. The Rhine is fantastic because you get great historic
stories and beautiful castles, especially along of the world heritage
stretch of the Rhine River. The Rhine is an absolute must do as it’s very rich in
beautiful castles and incredible scenery. Then there’s the Danube with the classic
trip between Passau and Budapest. It takes you through some beautiful
parts of Europe but, very importantly, you visit three critical capitals: Vienna , Bratislava and Budapest. Which of
those two rivers are my favourite? It depends which one I am currently on because I love
both of those itineraries! The next thing is a kind of watch out. I have a
whole video which talks about lots of a watch-outs about river cruising, but
probably the biggest and most important one of all for a first timer to
river cruising to understand is that water levels can play havoc with
your itinerary. So, either too much water or too little water. You’ll often
find there’s times of the year, or even certain years, when itineraries are
thrown all over the place. For example in 2018 there was a real problem with low
water and the river ships could not get very far down the rivers, and sometimes people were being
bused to excursions or even changing ships to get them further down
the river. Bear in mind y the water levels could
completely throw your itinerary out of kilter. Clearly the cruise companies try
everything they can but there’s nothing they can do about water levels. The next
key thing that a first-time river cruise needs to know is that the season is
relatively limited. The season starts around about March / April and
goes on until about October. Some cruises keep running after
October, particularly in December for the Christmas markets and some Christmas and
New Year cruises. But, between December and March there’s no River
cruise ships running in Europe. A really good time to go, in my opinion, as a
first-timer is in May / June and
September is a great time to go. At these times it is not manically busy.
These ships are all calling on the same places and once you add in the
land-based tourists on top, they can be really packed. At these times you have pretty
good weather and it’s not manically busy. The fares will
also reflect this. You’ll find you’re probably going to get better value fare, and
so bear that in mind when you think about planning. If you’re
considering a river cruise, an important thing to note is that it is still a slightly older activity and you’re generally going to find it’s
people 55+ and you will find lots of people in their 60s and 70s doing river
cruising. Of course it is evolving and changing. There are some cruise companies
who are trying to encourage more families and in the key summer periods they will do family themed cruises, while other cruise lines are trying to
introduce more themes like wine or arts to try attract a
more diverse audience. In practice it’s mostly people in their 50s, 60s, 70s
and above. It is in my view very much an adult rather than a family vacation
option. Most of the river cruises are going to places which have
historic, arts or a cultural slant. They are getting more active, and there’s more
cycling and hiking options but the excursions are more historical and cultural by
nature, with there’s lots of wine and food integrated into these. It is very much, in
my view, an adult experience. Viking for have decided to reflect
that and all of their cruises, both river and ocean, you have to be over
18 before you go on them. What about solo travellers? River cruising is still a
real challenge for solo travellers because most cruise lines don’t have
single cabins. Some are starting to toy with those but, generally speaking, as a
solo traveller you’re going to have to be quite canny do things like sign up
for the cruise lines that you’re interested in newsletters, and talk to
your agent and find out when they’re doing promotions. Some of them
will do no single supplement promotions or they’ll do low surcharges.
Solo travel is still a real challenge. Most of the time, and in peak season, you’ll find you’re paying a surcharge of
50% to 100%. If you found these tips helpful about river
cruising, I have many more videos and tips and ship tours on river cruising.
Why don’t you take a look at some of those to help understand river cruising
much more? Please watch many more of my Tips For Travellers videos as
they’re designed to help you make the most of your precious travel time and
money on land at sea and, of course ,the rivers of the world.

37 thoughts on “European River Cruising : 8 Need-to-Knows And Tips for First-time Cruisers

  1. We are leaving Saturday on Uniworld castles along the Rhine

  2. Leaving next Friday for Vikings Romantic Danube. First river cruise. First trip to Europe. Eeek👏👏👏

  3. Thanks so much for your tips and videos Gary! I would love to do a river cruise in my near future!

  4. Hi Gary,
    Do you have any comment on APT river cruises? We are booked on one in July from Amsterdam to Budapest.
    Always done ocean cruises before – this is our first time on a river cruise.
    Thanks Roger

  5. We are planning a first river cruise next year so thank you for the good information. Jeannine

  6. Another on the money video. Thanks, Gary! You have reaffirmed my thinking in many areas of my planning and decision making for river cruising and filled in some blanks with really useful information. Rhine, then Danube… Seems obvious with you saying it. Yeah, I am eager to see some castles. 🙂 Thanks, again.

  7. If your adventurious, you can always grab a map of the area your in from the front desk & take off on your own to explore.
    Just keep track of the time.

  8. How does water levels affect shoulder cruising? Is there a higher chance of water level issues in Apr/May or Sept/Oct? Is the tradeoff that Apr/May could have more rain but better river water levels with Sept/Oct drier but more at risk for water levels?
    My schedule is flexible so I prefer shoulder season for lower crowds and cheaper. I did European delivery of a car in July '18 and the record-setting heat was somewhat uncomfortable in unairconditioned hotels/restaurants, so peak summer in Europe is not at the top of my list.

  9. Thanks for another great video. I was wondering whether you recommend a cabin on the east-facing or west-facing side of the ship on the Rhine cruise – Budapest to Amsterdam?

  10. Outstanding video for beginners. The only thing I would add, and you have mentioned this on some of your other videos but it's worth repeating, is that river cruising may not be a good option for those with mobility issues. Thanks again for all you excellent work.

  11. My first river cruise was in 2007 on Gate 1. Gate 1 is not as well known as most of the other cruise lines but they do offer a good value for the budget minded traveler. They are always running promotions which can cut down the cost considerably. For instance I am taking another Gate 1 cruise this October and when I booked it in Feb. of this year they were running a 4 day sale on the 9 day Danube river cruise of $1500.00 off per cabin. Almost made up for my single supplement. I have since been on 7 other river cruises on other cruise lines but as I said, I am returning to Gate 1 this fall.

  12. Another great video Gary! Heading off in July for a trip with Uniworld through Burgundy & Provence – can hardly wait!

  13. We just finished our river cruise. We had a wonderful time. The river level was perfect. However, this way of travel is for people who are mobile. If one needs to use a walker, this is not for you. Europe is paved in cobblestone; cobblestones and walkers/wheelchairs do not mix AT All.

  14. I have done both of Rhine and Danube River Cruise on Viking. I loved the scenic views from the boat. I will be doing another cruise with Viking, again, in October. This time, my husband and I are going to Russia, Moscow to St. Petersburg.

  15. I was looking into doing my first river cruise…as a solo traveler… suddenly single and I want this travel experience regardless of my relationship status….any pointers? Thanks!

  16. Water level and winter season , don't mess with mother nature…

  17. Thank you for this very informative video for first-time river cruisers. My son and I took a 5-country river cruise last summer with Tauck starting in Budapest and ending in Amsterdam. The overall experience was absolutely wonderful. We had the lowest priced cabin which was really quite expensive in comparison with other river cruise companies, including Viking, but we had taken many other vacations with Tauck and were happy with all of them. Unfortunately our very experienced travel agent was unaware that we would not be able to see out our cabin window unless we stood up. In fact, our cabin window was so high we couldn’t even rest our elbows on the window sill to take photos (and I am almost 5’ 10” tall). When I inquired at the front desk the first day about this the ship’s cruise director said we could immediately be moved to a cabin where could see out the window in a seated position for an additional $6000. We had already spent at least $18000 on this trip for 2. Tauck does not offer upgrades under any conditions and I understand and fully respect that but our travel agent was never informed that we would have to actually stand up the entire cruise to see out the window. I scoured Tauck’s marketing materials and nowhere does it say that if you book this particular cabin level you will have to stand up for the entire cruise to see out your window. We have travelled to 40 countries and if I didn’t know this and neither did our very experienced travel agent, then I’m sure many other viewers of your channel don’t. CAREFUL: When you book with Tauck, you better ask this question to avoid disappointment before booking.

  18. that´s the main difference between the european cruisers and the amazon cruisers. in the amazon you go on conventional cruisers or even ocean liners, all year and from Belém to Manaus takes 7 days plus the 5 day return. it´s pretty much treated like conventional non-river cruises…

  19. I am a 29 year old solo traveler, and have done 3 river cruises. One with Viking, on the Prestige. And two with Emerald, on the Star and Destiny. I just got off my third one less then a week ago. Surprisingly I wasnt the youngest on my most recent one. But anyways, for solo travelers, look at Emerald, as they have two single bed cabins on their ships.

  20. Pretty obvious this is a Viking company sponsored video. Personally I don't do 'tips-included' cruises. bad juju that way.

  21. The worst cruise in my life the help are nice but badly trained the food is skimpy the buffet skimpy the portions are small we had the owners suit 24k for seven days plastic flowers in the room 2cookies once a day in the room no fruit don’t go on asked for a second steak was told to wait less they don’t have enough for all guests that’s the case with all meals don’t go on American cruise lines I would not rate them as two stars

  22. I'm going to go on a river cruise next spring, and I really appreciate your great video. Thank you.

  23. are there options to share cabin with another passenger, as solo traveller?

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